For better context, be sure and read Part 1 of this series, where I focused on my fascination with paladins back when I was a sprout.
For the record, the concept of a paladin remains interesting to me today, but World of Warcraft pretty much destroyed my idea of what paladins represented. This was mostly on account of the people behind their avatars, and how a paladin was, and remains, basically “a knight who has holy magic but does what he wants regardless of the moral implications.”
At any rate, as I matured into that awkward stage of life where hundreds of other people my age, drunk to our gills in hormones, are stuffed together in small rooms (at least that’s how I remember high school), my interest in warrior-related class preferences went through a transition. I was exposed to other concepts of what it meant to be a warrior; I studied Buddhism and developed an interest in East-Asian cultures. As a teenager and with the limited resources available to me (the internet was new at the time), the most readily available media came from Japan. I discovered anime and a slew of games, and through it the exaggerated concepts of samurai swordsmanship. Rurouni Kenshin was a big influence.
My interest in Eastern philosophies, cultures and traditions evolved, though in many video games I played, this manifested in the form of favoring any character who would/could carry a katana – or better yet, a no-dachi. But alongside them came a healthy respect for a class very often seen in fantasy media: the monk. Martial arts, though not a passion of mine, has remained a strong point of interest and respect for me.
These interests and preferences came from a common root arguably seen in a paladin; warriors who fought and employed abilities that came from an external source, a higher belief, in some form or another. No disrespect to the barbarians and berserkers out there reading this, but when it came to physical combat, I always found myself attracted to warrior-classes that fought for some kind of ideal — as opposed to a warrior that was just “badass.”
The monk, in it’s various incarnations throughout games over these last few decades, often exemplified this almost as perfectly as the paladin — except (usually) with that distinctive “Fantasy-Asian” flavor. I think my favorite monks were found in Final Fantasy Tactics (which also had samurai and holy knights, come to think of it), though I’ll enjoy most any character capable of standing toe-to-toe with opponents armed and armored in tempered steal, with little more than calloused knuckles and foot wraps.
Yet the monk, and many martial artist-like characters and classes out there, did not quite resonate as “me,” not in the way paladins did when I was younger. Considering the area in which I grew up and the people I knew there, “Eastern” thoughts and “alternative thinking” kinda left me mostly on my own, save a few individuals. What this, and the appearance of certain influential Blizzard games, primed me for was my fascination with the druid.
I cannot remember the first time I had come across the concept of a druid. It might have been during Magic: The Gathering, where they were inarguably green, but at that time I was more drawn to angels. No, it was the Warcraft series, specifically the introduction of the Night Elves, that really got me into things druidic.
And yes, I’m well aware of the historical druids of our world.
Then of course Warcraft 3 followed by World of Warcraft came around, and having favored the Night Elf faction, I rolled a druid the moment I got my hands on WoW. I shan’t linger on the precise mechanics of that game, nor their place in the world lore. What I’m going to talk about is the concept of a druid, which at it’s core, holds strands in common with the druids of other universes, such as that of Dungeons & Dragons (in its many incarnations), Everquest, and others.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with what a druid actually is, here’s a nifty excerpt from TVtropes.org :
“In modern fiction, “druid” is typically used for a nature-themed magic-user that usually has flavour of priesthood, especially if they hail from pre-Christian Europe (or fantastical equivalent). Unlike standard issue Fighter, Mage, Thief or well-defined concepts such as The Paladin, druid capabilities may vary highly based on setting, although in principle it’s a very broad spectrum: their powers govern just about everything connected to living things and unliving manifestations of nature…”
What we have here is a warrior inspired and empowered by nature. Now there’s an ideal, the power of nature; a spiritual background that appealed to me — a boy raised in the woods by vegetarian hippy parents. A druid, whether a single individual or part of some circle, very ranger-like in their abstaining from society, and were very much outliers in most any given setting. They were loners, preservers, and really had a handle on “the big picture.”
Often enough, nature falls in that gray area between clearly defined Good and Evil, Black and White, Light and Darkness. Nature is its own thing.
These were ideas to which I could subscribe. The druid felt very “me,” and throughout my college years this could be seen in my work as an Art Major (examples of which I will spare you). But more than that, I learned about the concept of adaptability in terms of character class, and this served to develop my personal psychology to lasting effect. Allow me to paint for you a mental picture.
In World of Warcraft, druids were designed to be versatile; not counting actual in-game application (which was in a constant state of flux), the various animal forms a druid could assume allowed for adapting to almost any situation. Turning into a bear allowed for greater hit points and the ability to pull enemies away from your allies; turning into a panther/lion fulfilled the role of a rogue, allowing quick bursts of damage; a moonkin (owlbear to you D&Ders) that blasted enemies with nature magic; and even a tree form to enhance one’s healing spells. Hell, one could even assume the form of a fast beast (a cheetah in the early days, and lately it’s been a stag) for long distance travel comparable to riding a horse, or even take on the form of a bird to fly over mountains and buildings. Sea lion form was available as well, allowing for speeding up rivers and across lakes. One could switch between most of these animal forms in a matter of seconds, without any particular limitation, making druids very slippery and cunning.
With so many options available, I found it unfulfilling to play any of the ‘mimicked’ classes. Rogues and Warriors and Mages did their role arguably better than a druid, but that’s all they did. I wasn’t satisfied with that, and this reflected in my life choices as well.
How could I adhere to one single career path if it meant specializing in one thing for the next 10 years? Or worse, the rest of my life?
How gods awful boring is that?
In the next and final installment of this series, I’ll discuss which class with which I most identify myself today, as a matured adult in a modern age.
Music selection today is brought to you by, I couldn’t resist, Blizzard. Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos to be precise, when the night elf race made their debut and druids became “a thing” in Blizzard games (we do not speak of the druids in Diablo 2). This music harkens back to the time before the fall of Blizzard, in the opinion of this humble gamer.
This track is known as “Awakening,” the second of the three original night elf tracks, and it was chosen not only because hey, guess what, I rambled on about Warcraft games again, but because this track is unique among “nature tracks” I know. It begins with a determined mood, accompanied by a peculiar blend of drums and mandolin, then fades into a serene, peaceful atmospheric verse. With your volume up high enough, you can hear birds in the back, can almost see the untouched glades hidden amongst pristine, ancient forests; the wild and magical places of the world that druids call home and swear to protect. Then the music builds once more, back into determined, warlike tones of a mindset aware that if one is to be a “nature lover” in a fantasy setting, one must come equip with a savage side.
Happy writing, dear readers!